Eagle's Wings Community Church

Integrating Faith – Not Blind Ignorance

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“I Grow Therefore I am Alive”: My integration Journey

                I hope I don’t lose you all with this first paragraph.  My processes and definitions seem to be rather unique and confusing, but I feel the need to define “integration” before I can offer some thoughts about its journey and how it relates to faith.  If it is not clear as to how my processes might be confusing it will be when I start this next sentence.  In Math, differential equations involve continuously varying quantities.  Integration gives these continuously varying quantities a postulated rate of change which is then used to solve the differential equation.  For this reason any given integration is only the answer so long as these varying quantities stay as they are, but as soon as they change a new integration is needed.  This is as true in life as it is in math.  This means that in order to attempt to find integration in life one first has to discover life’s varying qualities.  For this reason the only integration we can hold in life is a continuously changing one.   I must take on each moment as it comes, quieting myself enough to seek the varying qualities of the moment, it is only then that I can find my present state of integration; centering myself, then letting it go so that I can repeat the process for my life’s next set of varying qualities.

                So how does this apply to faith?  Spending the first 20 or so years of my life thinking that my life was constant, that it had only one set of qualities and that it was as simple as figuring them out, made a journey of integration impossible.  I grew up with the mindset that my life held universal truth, that the bible had one set of answers and that I had one God -given role amidst that truth.  From that mindset I was then instructed as to what most of those truths were and what “the biblical worldview” was in the midst of these truths.  In a sense I believed I had everything, I had life figured out and didn’t need to worry about life’s varying qualities; or so I thought.  My first big turning point in life’s integrative journey showed me that rather than having it all figured out I had simply closed off my mind to the alternatives, rather than knowing the one biblical worldview I had simply cut out the heart of my relationship with God in order to get cheap answers.  Rather than arriving  at a place of understanding concerning life’s varying qualities I had instead come to a place of stagnation and a complete loss of self.

                This first big turning point came in the form of challenging my mind through the rigors of secular philosophy.  I developed an interest in philosophy late in high school and decided that it would be a fun major to pursue in college.  Little did I know that I was signing myself up for a lifelong passion as well as a more immediate introduction to integration.  After trudging through two years of philosophy professors scoffing at universal truth and trashing a belief in the scriptures one of my unvarying qualities began to wander and it was the quality that held it all together, namely that I had no varying qualities, that I had it all together, that I had all life’s answers.

                Ironically my professor’s scoffing at religion had pushed me first to agnosticism and then to a place of renewed faith.  Knowing that God wasn’t nearly as easy to figure out as I thought gave me renewed vigor to explore who He was, is and will be.  In this way I lost my faith because of never really finding it only to find it by losing everything I knew about it.  I found my life’s integration journey only by relinquishing the fact that I had completed it.  I resolved to follow in the thought of Renee Descartes and start all over in my thinking.  But, rather than, “I think therefore I am” I started with “I grow therefore I am alive”.  If my mind had ceased to find new answers then it had succeeded only in ceasing to be alive.

                Over the years my relationship with God has seen its challenges, mostly due to pain and suffering.  I found myself asking if it was worth the growth, if it was worth the relationship if it also meant suicide, broken homes, and various abuses of power.  Why would God allow my uncle to rape his six year old niece?  Why would God allow my brother to fall again and again to drugs?  Why would God let cancer take my grandparents? And most of all why is God equally open to relationship with rapists, drug addicts, and bigots as he is to those grandparents who lived their lives to serve others?  Perhaps it is because without freedom for all there is no growth for any, and perhaps it is because no matter how bad things get or how horrible people become they still have that potential for growth in them.  It is the willingness to hold on to this potential in all people that makes God love.  It is my hope that this piece of my journey will help others in moving from a faith of knowing to a faith of growing.

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Tithing

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Click HERE for a Tithing Introduction Video

How should people in the church give?  Many church leaders, to varying degrees, teach that members should tithe to the church.  So, let’s take a look at whether this Old Testament law has transferred over to the church.

Tithing can be traced back before the temple and the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.  It was an established Middle Eastern custom whereby the tenth was considered to belong to the king.  The first example is when Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything after he rescues his nephewLot(Gen14:20).  It’s important to note that scripture does not reference God giving the directive to do so.  Nether does He do so after Jacob’s dream (Gen 28:22).  These examples are more like an earthly tax rather than a kingdom offering.  Therefore, they should not be used to substantiate current day tithing.

The first appearance of tithing that is directed by God as a kingdom practice is when the Lord spoke to Moses and told him to tell the Israelites that the tenth was to be set aside as holy to God (Lev 27:30).  The tithe was comprised of crops and livestock.  If they originated fromIsrael, they were to be brought to the tabernacle in early times and the temple inJerusalemin latter times.  If the person paying the tithe lived too far away to transport their goods, they could redeem their goods for money and pay the tithe that way.  However, they would be required to add an extra fifth to their payment (Lev 27:31).

The tithe was to go to the Levites who were a special tribe that had been set apart to serve God by maintaining worship (Num 18:1).  In turn, the Levites were to pay a tithe to the priests.  These tithes were paid into the temple.  There was also a separate tithe paid every third year to the storehouses which was to be used for the Levites and the poor and needy.

Often, we hear about the Old Covenant being one of conditions.  Its theme is, if God’s people do good they are blessed and if they do evil they will not be blessed.  Probably more often we hear that the New Testament is unconditional.  Its theme is, Christ died for all.  So, in the days of the Levites and tithing and all that, if the Israelites had faith, their lands would prosper with livestock and abundant crops and vice versa.  For these reasons, along with the purpose of the tithe going to Levites (those charged with service to God), the poor, and the needy, there were strict warnings about not giving the first fruits or robbing God of His tithe (Mal 3:8).

Here’s another interesting thing about tithing that we don’t often hear about in the church today.  Only Levites were allowed to go near the Tent of Meeting.  God declared that any Israelite who did so committed a sin and would die (Num 18:7).

Let’s fast forward now to the days of Jesus.  It’s true that He made several references to tithing, even suggesting to others to pay the tithe.  This makes sense, of course given that the law was still in effect and the temple was still in place.  However, Jesus predicts the fall of the temple (Mat 24:2) which came to pass around A.D. 70. Israel no longer had a place to offer sacrifices.  However, Christians had no need for the temple because the everlasting sacrifice had already been made.

Now, during the early years of the church, after the resurrection, there were a good number of theological challenges that the apostles had to deal with concerning the law and how it would now be applied, especially given the fact of the grafting in of the Gentiles (non-Jews).  Should they be circumcised?  Should they eat meat dedicated to idols?  How should they give?  There are literally hundreds of laws from the Old Testament.  Surely, commandments like not murdering are to be carried over.  Hopefully, others like not eating pigs have passed and are now permissible.

So, how do we know if tithing has been carried over or not?  Fortunately, the New Testament tells us pretty plainly, in my opinion.  It never speaks of tithing post-resurrection.  All references to giving omit any kind of legalistic formulas or percentages.  In fact, the most explicit reference to giving in the New Testament is 2 Cor 9:7.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (NIV)

We can see that not only is there no percentage formula given, but Paul is consistent with the New Testament theme of grace versus the law.  We should decide on our own what to give.  So, we should move to a few things to consider when we are deciding what to give.

First of all, as we can see in the above verse, realize that giving to the church, the poor, and the needy are all biblical concepts that have carried over to the New Testament believers.  (See also my post on “Should Pastors Be Paid?”)  While the New Testament does not lay out a percentage, formula, or law, it also does not approve of 0% giving.  However, we should not give out of guilt or fear!  We should be giving because we believe and trust in the stewardship of the church leaders to do what’s right with the money.  Personally, I never want to give if I’m suspicious that a large percentage of the church income will be going to line the pockets of church leaders.  Tithing in the Old Testament and now giving in the New Testament has always had the intention of taking care of God’s leaders, the poor, and maintaining the place of worship (Ex. 36) as its central focus.

We should also give if we believe in the vision of the church.  Our hope is that our giving is going to missions, worship, evangelism, and helping those on the margins such as the poor and elderly.  The early church serves as a good model for giving.  When people in the church had a need people in the church gave to them.  That way, when they had a need, they would be helped, as well.  Doing so would create equality in giving and no members would be carrying a disproportional burden (2 Cor8:13-14).  Paul suggested to the members of the Galatian and Corinthian churches to give on a weekly basis at the church service although it was not said so in a legalistic way.

The word for giving is koinonia which literally means sharing.  Sharing doesn’t make one rich while others suffer.  The purpose of giving is to meet needs, not extravagancies.  What is extravagant is a bit subjective but I think most of us know it when we see it if we’re honest with ourselves.  We are to care about people over possessions and church leaders are specially charged with being good stewards of God’s money.  We must all remember that all of it, not just the tithe, is God’s.

If someone wants to give a tithe, great!  If they’d like to give more or less, great.  Some can give more and some can give less, but all can give cheerfully.

Here are some final questions for those who today teach a legalistic tithe.

–         If we followed all the tithing regulations, do we need to give an extra 5% since we’re paying in cash?

–         Is there any place we could die if we entered for the purpose of paying the tithe?

–         Do we pay only during the 3rd and 7th months as well as once every three years?

–         If we teach prosperity as a result of tithing does the church give the money back to families who do not get rich or fall on hard times?

–         Can we go into debt with God?  How big does the debt have to get for Him to forgive the debt?

–         Do we have to give our tithe only to the Levites who were set up by God to collect the tithe or can we just give it to our local church?  If we can just give it to the local church, where are the scriptures to show that law passing away?

Hopefully, this is all starting to sound a bit ridiculous.  Obviously, I’ve not been able to handle every scripture on tithing, giving, and so on.  So, I welcome your questions on how I handle any verses you may have been given as support of the view that God still requires the tithe.  I don’t think He does.  Here is a link to another theologian who doesn’t think so either.

http://bit.ly/3PR6oA

I can’t wait for your comments.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!